I can’t imagine anyone would be encouraged to see or discouraged from seeing this movie on the basis of any film goers comments. This is a movie that sort of demands a first hand experience from anyone who is interested. It is likely to be the biggest film of the year, there is a good chance that it will be one of the biggest films of all time, and critical assessment by professionals or amateurs is not going to change that fact. So, that having been said, let me weigh in on the film and if anyone wants to talk about it, I’d be happy to go into greater depth. As of this moment I can say it is a terrific popcorn film that has moments of greatness. It is also overstuffed and convoluted to the point that unless you were to write a near synopsis of the story, it is still not likely to be very clear.
A few problems that I had with it to start with and then we can get to all the good stuff that makes it worth seeing. “Age of Ultron” is a continuation of the concepts in the first Avenger movie but we have had four Marvel Universe Films in the time period between and many of the other films have pieces of business in them that play small parts in the story and actions displayed here. I know these are comic book tales but the way that events speed through, get resolved and a new set of threats pops up without much establishment is a little frustrating. the stand alone films (with the exception of the IronMan movies) have generally taken their time building up a set of characters, revealing a plot or plan slowly and then the movies get to the action stuff in the last third of the film. This movie feels like the third act of a bigger story, but not necessarily the story we have been watching in the other movies. I’m glad that Pepper Potts does not show up and impersonate Ironman, but the end of that film seemed to be moving away from Tony Stark as hero and center square. Yet that is exactly what continues in this film, with a twist on his intentions that is being reworked and repeated over and over again in the films he is featured in. He is a conflicted War profiteer who loves and loathes his job and he creates as much havoc as he solves. When you arrive at the end of this film, we play out the same scenario again, and everybody sees this except him. Ironskull might be a better nickname since he seems incapable of learning from his own mistakes. I have said many times that “Experience” is the only teacher that some people will listen to (including my oldest child) but Stark is not capable of listening to experience at all.
The opening of the film features a battle sequence at a fictional castle in a fictional country with characters that may have been in another film but if they were, it was for a nanosecond. The Avengers are on the attack and it is hard to believe they would be slowed down by the conventional forces they face after the alien invasion they repelled in the first movie. Faster than you can say “Who the heck is that?” the main bad guys appear to be disposed of and the secondary mutants “Quicksilver” and the “Scarlet Witch” are introduced as traumatized volunteers in another super soldier program that is “Hydra/SHIELD” based. The fight is exciting although the CG animation in the opening actually looked noticeable for this sequence. It worried me but the rest of the movie settled down a little. The money shot of the Avengers in action in the first movie, waited until the third act. In this film it is almost in the third minute of the movie.
It would be difficult to give plot points away, since there is another one every two minutes. The Avengers are damaged by some early contact with the new characters, the secret plans are partially revealed, Artificial Intelligence takes over, another battle sequence begins, the Avengers are manipulated into internal strife, a love affair springs up between characters, secrets of one of the Avengers are revealed, another character reappears, Avengers fight each other, they discover part one of a plot hatched by Ultron, they discover part two of the plot hatched by Ultron, they secretly search for answers on their own, they come together again,…whew, it is simply exhausting. There is so much narrative and it is so rapidly delivered that there is virtually no time for emotional connection to any of it.
Now that those issues are out of the way, here is some of the good stuff. Ultron, the A.I. creation of Stark (with a little push from the Tesseract), is played perfectly by the voice work of James Spader. His tone and wit are dry and the moments of high camp drama are delivered with suitable venom and at times anger. The script use of the song from Pinocchio is exactly right and sets up a macabre attitude whenever the Avengers encounter one of his many forms. While the visuals might be a bit confusing as to which robotic character has the true Ultron persona at any time, Spader manages to make it work with the right amount of cynicism and philosophy.
Once again, Captain America is a standout character that manages to influence the group productively even though he is not the smartest, strongest or most cunning of the lot. He manages to be the butt of a joke about language use that someone of my generation can appreciate, even though I’m one generation behind him. His character works well with all of the other characters and in the fight scenes he manages to stay relevant because of that. He also has the high ground on ethical issues and seems to be the voice of reason much the way Tony Stark is an exuberant puppy dog willing to try out everything.
Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, gets a better part this go round and his interaction with the the Scarlett Witch near the end of the movie is one of the few pieces of drama that works in the story, while everything else is in a rush to show us what is next. I don’t know that the background story he is featured in is necessary, in fact I’m pretty sure it could be cut and no one would really miss it. This would have been a place to go in a lower budget stand alone movie with his character, but I get the impression that those kind of films will not be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.His character has the most interaction with the new Avenger characters and there is a pretty good payoff for both of those figures.
There is a lot of humor in the film and I suppose because it is comic book based, we should expect that. Everyone has a one liner to throw down and most of them hit the funny bone but they do tend to take away from any sense of danger or drama that is going on. Another new character is introduced late in the film. It’s nice that the actor who has been in most of the earlier films gets a chance to show up on screen, but it was confusing and rushed and not altogether certain that the character is reliable. Ultron’s plan for global eradication of humans is an interesting one, but like so many other elements of the film it is rushed. The story is a little more coherent than that of Furious 7, but both films are designed for visceral visual junkies to get a fix from. Avengers: Age of Ultron works more effectively because the universe it operates in is contained in the fantastical galaxy of super heroes, aliens, and technology.
That’s my two cents. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but it did not impress me the way “The Winter Soldier“, “The First Avenger” and “The Avengers” did. I commented in my review of “Guardians of the Galaxy” that I did not need to see Peter Quill and Tony Stark trading barbs with one another. After this movie, I can see it happening, I still don’t think I will like it. Hope you all enjoy the film, I know you will see it whether you read this or not.
All valid points, Richard. I did enjoy this, as did my kids. It seemed to me not so much overstuffed (it is a BIG film experience) but compressed. Whedon’s director’s cut purportedly came in at over three hours, but Marvel (no doubt looking for more screenings per day) got it down to 141 minutes. One minute less than its predecessor. Wonder if they’ll re-release it down the line, à la AVATAR, with Whedon’s version. Fine review.
There was so much and it zips by and never breathes. Maybe that’s a good thing but it was too much for me too often. If a longer version allows the plot points to develop a bit more, I’d be down with that. Glad you guys liked it, I did too.